6 new coronavirus cases prompt emergency declaration in LA County, Long Beach

Stressing that they were acting out of “an abundance of caution” and not panic, Los Angeles County officials today declared a state of emergency in response to the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, as six new cases were discovered in the county in the last 48 hours.

That brings the total number of confirmed cases in LA County to seven. None of the cases are in Long Beach, according to the city’s health officer Dr. Anissa Davis. However, Long Beach declared its own health emergency today as it prepares for the possibility of more cases, Davis said.

“This is a global outbreak that is entering a new phase, and we must be prepared,” said Long Beach Health Director Kelly Colopy.

Appearing at a morning news conference, LA County officials said the declarations would allow greater coordination among various levels of government.

Health officials said they’ve been able to track the exposure source for all six new cases.

“There’s either a travel history to an area with an outbreak, there’s exposure to known travelers coming from areas where there’s an outbreak, or the person is in close contact with a confirmed case,” LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said. “This means as of today, we still don’t have known cases of community transmission.”

According to Ferrer, three of the new cases are a group of people who traveled to northern Italy where they’re believed to have been exposed to the virus. Two are people who came into close contact with an infected relative who lives outside of LA. And the last case is a person who came into contact through his or her job with travelers who likely were exposed outside of the country.

Ferrer said one person has been hospitalized and the five others were in self-quarantine at home.

The county’s first case was in January, a person who lived in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Ferrer says that person is no longer infectious.

Eleven deaths from the new coronavirus have been reported in the United States, 10 in Washington state and one in Placer County. More than 93,000 cases of the illness, officially known as COVID-19, have been confirmed around the globe.

Authorities said they expect to see more cases. Long Beach has already begun taking preventative steps such as cleaning and disinfecting public areas at Long Beach Airport and asking workers from China to remain on their ships at the Port of Long Beach.

Dr. Anissa Davis, Health Officer for the city of Long Beach, talks during a media conference along with Long Beach government and health officials about the COVID-19 virus. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Wednesday’s emergency declaration helps Long Beach and LA County streamline their responses and possibly get future reimbursement from state and federal funds, authorities said.

“We are prepared and continue to plan to address any possible spread of the coronavirus,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “We continue to take proactive measures that will protect, treat and care for our residents, especially those most vulnerable.”

Long Beach officials offered some practical advice on how to combat COVID-19’s spread:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home if you are sick.

Health officials believe the virus is spread “mainly from person to person between people who are in close contact with one another (within six feet) or through respiratory droplets produced when someone coughs or sneezes,” according to Long Beach.

Ferrer warned LA County residents to plan for the possibility of “more extensive social distancing requirements,” including verbal salutations instead of handshakes, and whenever possible, trying to stay at least six feet away from strangers at public events.

Members of the media gathered at the emergency declaration news conference. Photo courtesy LA County.

“We do need folks to plan for the possibility of business disruptions, school closures, and modifications or cancellations of select public events,” she said. “We will be working closely with schools and public event venues and businesses before decisions are made to close.”

At Wednesday’s news conference, Ferrer laid out a series of steps that LA County will be taking in the days and weeks ahead:

  • “We are increasing our capacity for testing at our local public health lab. (It is) among 10 California health labs that have received CDC test kits and we have additional kits on the way. We are currently testing and have been since last Wednesday.” Ferrer said.
  • “We will ensure that people who test positive for the novel coronavirus and their close contacts are quickly identified and closely monitored and supported while they are in isolation and/or quarantine.”
  • Ferrer also said the department will begin daily radio briefings Thursday and is posting new guidelines for childcare facilities, schools, colleges and universities, employers, hotels, public safety responders, shelters, and parents on how they can prepare for and slow the spread of the virus.
  • Additionally, the department is sending out technical assistance teams on site visits to interim housing facilities to make sure all necessary precautions are taken.

For information about Long Beach’s response to COVID-19, the city urged residents to visit longbeach.gov/COVID19.

Jeremiah Dobruck, City News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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